CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A picture of a nasty-looking burger in a Pennsylvania school went viral on social media at the end of last year.
A lot of parents commented about food safety and asked questions about school cafeterias here in the Lowcountry.
Turns out, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) publishes easy-to-access school cafeteria inspection reports.
They detail what schools lost points for and what the final grade was. It also indicates whether a follow-up inspection will be needed.
Tip for parents: Search for your child's school by typing it into the "Establishment" search bar and narrowing the search down to "Institutions."
Some school cafeterias in South Carolina have had problems with bugs, rodent d roppings, and mildewed ice machines.
We checked three years of DHEC reports available online, sorting by county and grade.
The good news is the majority of local schools get A-ratings every time they're inspected.
"We work really hard and we have a procedure," explained Kaylora Black, the Cafeteria Manager at Sanders Clyde Elementary in Charleston. "They give us these great binders you have to go by. If you follow the binders, you can get a great inspection."
Black has worked in school cafeterias for 20 years. Her staff serves around 600 meals a day including breakfast, lunch, snack and supper.
"From the minute the food comes in off the truck, we have to inspect and make sure it's not damaged, or thawed and refrozen," said Black.
She says getting a high DHEC score takes constant work.
As you might imagine, schools will lose points for thinks like bugs and dangerous grease buildup. But they can also lose points for not throwing away a dented can from the pantry and even not having bright enough light bulbs.
"You have to be very, very careful on little things. Say you put something in the freezer and it's not dated and labeled? Two points on DHEC with that. If you put something on floor that you're not supposed to? We lose points."
In a statement, DHEC said top standards are expected in schools because "Children under the age of 9 are considered to be a "highly susceptible population." This means that they are considered at greater risk of foodborne illness and complications."
Maintaining proper food temperatures is critical. Cafeterias should have multiple thermometers in the refrigerators, freezers, ovens and warming centers. They check temperatures of food on the line right before kids are served.
"It is important for parents to know- we care about your children," said Joseph Pettit, Nutrition Services Field Supervisor with Charleston County Schools.
Petit works with multiple schools in the district. He says DHEC inspections are always a surprise, so they have to keep standards high each day.
Depending on a school's inspection history, they may come once a year or as many as four times a year.
"We do follow the same inspections as any other restaurant does in regard of DHEC coming in and looking over stuff," Petit insisted. "I think sometimes even a little stricter, more stringent than restaurants I've worked in before."
One protocol our school cafeterias have is to freeze a sample tray of each day's food and keep it for seven days. That way, if a student does get sick or make a complaint, DHEC can go back and look at food served.
CCSD told Live 5 about that process being utilized last year at Charleston County School of the Arts when a student claimed to find a worm in her sweet potatoes and posted a video on Facebook. The district had DHEC come immediately, and inspectors found no sign of contamination.
In the records we pulled from the last three years, six South Carolina schools got "C" rankings. None were in the Lowcountry, and those were all in 2014. No South Carolina schools have received "C" rankings in the last two years.
Fourteen "B" rankings were assigned to state schools over the past two years. One of those B's was in Georgetown county, and one was Colleton county. All schools in those two districts have now gotten "A's" over the last year.
School cafeterias in Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, and Williamsburg Counties have gotten all "A" grades for two years.
Petit says he's not surprised at all. "Not only is that what we expect, but it's what we take pride in."
Black shared a story about one year when she got an 98 on an inspection. "I was so mad that I got a 98 because I lost the two points on something that could have been avoided- the simple thing of not storing food on a milk crate."
Since then, her team has been on a mission to get 100 scores, and they have been awarded by the district for doing so.
As for parents who question the quality, Petit said, "Just give it a try. We always invite you to speak to your principal, and teachers, come in and have breakfast with them, lunch with them, come have supper, come in and be our guest."
Black is glad inspections are posted online. "I would encourage parents to check everything we do here, just to make sure their kids are getting safe and healthy food."
"A" ratings sometimes still warrant a follow-up inspections for violations. The following public, charter and private schools had violations in routine inspections that required a follow-up inspection.
Angel Oak Elementary, Baptist Hill High, Burke High, Charleston Collegiate, Charleston School of Arts, Chicora Elementary, Dunston Elementary, East Cooper Montessori, Ellington, Garrett Academy Culinary Kitchen, Hursey Elementary, James
B Edwards Elementary, Lowcountry Leadership Charter, Military Magnet, Minnie Hughes, Morningside, Mt Pleasant Academy, Mt Zion Elementary, New Israel Christian Day, North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary, Northside Christian, Orange Grove Elementary,
Stall High, St. Johns High, West Ashley High, and Zucker Middle.
*None of the violations in the above mentioned schools were bad enough to warrant less than an "A" rating.